Responding When We Don't Understand
I want to spend one more week in the familiar story of Cain and Abel, which is recorded in Genesis 4. Every time I read it, I find that God offers new insight into what I expect to be a simple story that challenges me and impacts my life greatly.
So, I'll challenge you again as we approach this story with the same challenge I offered last week: read carefully, focus on every sentence, and open your eyes to see what God wants to show you through this familiar story. I believe that this is one of the most challenging and impactful passages of the Bible for our lives today.
The passage's significance is deeply connected to its surrounding context, so I won't include the whole thing here. Grab a hard-copy of your Bible and read Genesis 4:1-26 and if you have time, the passages before and after (If you don't have a Bible, click the link... and email me so that I can get you one!). After you read, I'll help you to pull out some of the key details.
Focus in on verse 3:
“In the course of time Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.”
We're told that the Lord had regard for Abel's offering, but not for Cain's. He shows favor to Abel here, but not Cain. Why?
We're not actually told why. Later biblical authors make some comments on this (like the author of Hebrews, who uses this passage to make a point about Abel's faith in Hebrews 11:4), but in the story itself we are left without any detail. And that's the point!
The author is leaving us intentionally with an absence of detail to draw us into the rest of the story. He wants you to stop reading and wrestle with this question, but cause it's how Cain responds when he doesn't understand that is the main point.
Cain doesn't understand why God didn't look on his offering with regard; why God showed Abel favor and not him. The author is trying to put us in a frame of mind that helps us to sympathize with that perspective.
We're experiencing the same lack of knowledge as Cain when we read the story because everyone has this same experience. We've all probably asked at one point or another, "Why isn't God looking with favor on me? Why is he allowing these things to happen to me? What have I done wrong?"
Looking at Cain's response helps us to understand the results of our own responses to similar situations. Verse 6:
“The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do good, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do good, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
The idea here is that Cain has a choice. He can be accepted if he wants; if he does good. It's the same word used in Genesis 1-2 when God establishes and defines what's good, and when humanity rejects what God has defined as good. Cain has the choice to trust that God is the one with the wisdom to define what is good and evil.
It's a retelling of the choice of Adam and Eve, and the author wants us to see that this is a choice every human must make.
Even when you don't understand why something bad is happening, you have a choice with how you can respond:
You can continue to do good and move forward, trusting in the Lord's wisdom,
Or, you can make the same choice that Cain makes--sin--moral failure that leads to death.
Again, Genesis 4 invites us to place ourselves in this story: You can respond to things in your life with anger like Cain, but the way of the Lord is to trust in his wisdom.
Middle School Pastor